Skip to comments.The His-and-Hers Bible
Posted on 02/09/2002 12:34:24 PM PST by Pokey78
After several years of internal debate, the International Bible Society is releasing a gender-neutral alternative to the best-selling ''New International Version'' (N.I.V.) -- the rather nervously titled ''Today's New International Version'' (T.N.I.V.). This ''inclusive'' New Testament, full of ''children of God'' where once there were only ''sons,'' goes on sale in April, alongside the more traditional edition.
Unsurprisingly, many fundamentalist Christians -- a prime market for the N.I.V. -- are less than thrilled. And they are right to be concerned. Like any Brown semiotics major, conservative Christians know that symbols matter; they affect the way we view the world. A gender-neutral Bible is one step closer to a gender-neutral society. And while liberals and feminists might support such a goal, they should still join in the fight against degendering the Good Book. For copy-editing the contradictions out of the Bible is not the same thing as resolving them -- it merely papers over the problem, literally.
T.N.I.V. translators argue that these changes are necessary to keep the Bible up to date. God's message, says Dr. Ronald Youngblood, a member of the group that developed T.N.I.V., must be communicated ''in the language of the day.'' And indeed, the substitutions are fairly quotidian -- whoever believes'' for ''he who believes'' and so on -- and affect only followers. The creator and his son stay resolutely male. Some of the alterations are even justified by the original language. But others are triumphs of ideology over semantics: an ''oops'' to the exclusion of women in practically every verse.
Of course, saying ''sisters and brothers'' has one obvious, laudable effect: it makes half the congregation feel included. Even as an adolescent at Temple Israel in White Plains, I remember reading Bible verses and feeling a part-cynical, part-bemused sense that this wasn't really meant for me. Who could object to making women feel more a part of God's message? (Well, some people could, but let's just leave it rhetorical.) Certainly, there's nothing new about crunchier, more user-friendly versions of the Testaments: 1985's New Jerusalem Bible was the first official gender-neutral Roman Catholic version, and Reconstructionist and Reform Jews have long used inclusive texts. A 1966 version of the Gospel called ''God Is for Real, Man'' even featured hep ''street'' translations (''the Lord is like my probation officer''). For those who view the Bible as philosophical poetry or a historical record -- or perhaps simply as the final whispered message in a cultural game of telephone, what Northrop Frye called ''literature plus'' -- there is justification for such approaches. Anything that increases the text's communicative power is good. Say ''people'' instead of ''men'' long enough and the religion itself alters: a whistle-a-happy-tune experiment in social change.
But as appealing -- and pragmatic -- as such arguments are, they are also, in the end, rationalizations, and the T.N.I.V. controversy makes that clear. Because when you make literal changes for a readership that takes the Bible literally, you bump up against the fact that men and women in the Bible are not even remotely equal. Men owned things: women, slaves, land. They had the moral authority, and with it, the moral responsibility. To cite an obvious example: ''Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.'' Gender-neutralize that!
Perhaps the real issue is that the translation doesn't go far enough, dealing, as it does, with only the flock, not the shepherd(ess). Without masculinity, how would God's authority, or God's mercy, change in our eyes? How would we change -- made, as we are, in the creator's image? Linguistic changes of this sort are conceivable in English in a way they are not in the romance languages, where each noun -- hat, chair, arm, leg -- is assigned a gender from the start. But in English, we can escape this constraint, free to be inclusive (men and women) or neutral (people) or to avoid the subject altogether with grammatical subterfuge.
To translate the Bible this way is understandably tempting, but it's also a lie. I'm reminded of a modern Orthodox co-worker I once had, who said, ''Look, being Jewish is a game with a set of rules: go ahead and move the pieces anyplace you want, but don't call it chess.'' A truly gender-neutral interpretation of the Bible would quickly begin to fall apart at the seams -- laws about rape or slavery rising up like invisible ink from ancient parchment. One solution, of course, is to reject the Bible entirely. Another is to regard it merely as a parable whose historical foundation can be ignored. But for anyone who wants to take religion seriously, neither solution truly suits. Instead, it seems necessary to confront the contradictions in the text -- to keep the pronouns as they are and wrestle instead with the messy truth, like, well, manly Jacob with his angel. It's a more difficult task, but it's the only honest way out.
Emily Nussbaum last wrote for the magazine about the lives of female lawyers.
"Do not add to or take away from my words" ~ God
"Hell is hot" ~ Nostradamus
QV4.0 won't work under Windows 2000, so the time may be coming to bite the bullet and upgrade.
Several times I have had both men and women quote me that verse as proof that Christianity is a male-dominant relic from 2000 years ago. I then ask them what Christ did for the Church -- the answer is that He gave His life to save us -- and suggest that husbands have the same duty to their wives. I then point out that Jesus first appeared to women after the resurrection and that his dealings with women (like the woman aat Jacob's well) were quite scandalous in light of the times. It makes them think a bit.
For the record, in case anyone cares about my opinion, I'm not necessarily opposed to a "gender-neutral" version of the Bible. Our language has changed over the past 40 years (mostly for the worse) but if the new translation proves more clear to today's readers, then more power to it. Better to save just one more soul than to have a Bible written in English "just the way that King James and Jesus spoke it."
You bring up a very good point.
Although, realize that to some this would seem
similar to an amateur blues band trying
to play "Rhapsody in Blue" by Gershwin.
A little like letting the inmates make the rules.
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